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コラム@NCU 「共生・第4回:Language Learning for Peaceful Coexistence」 メドウズ ・マーティン

 The Japanese words 「共存」 and 「共生」 can both be translated to English as “coexistence” but they are distinct words with different meanings in Japanese. How can we communicate the difference between the two Japanese terms in English? If we look at the characters that make up each word and translate them literally to English, we could say that 「共存」 is equal to “existing together” while 「共生」 is translated as “living together”. 

 In biology, scientists have many different technical words to describe the different ways that species interact with each other. The term “mutualism”, for example, indicates a relationship between two different species in which each species benefits from the activity of the other.  Bees and flowering plants have a mutualistic relationship. The bees depend on flowers for pollen to make honey and the plants depend on the bees for reproduction. They are not simply together in the same space at the same time; the behaviour of each species helps the other to live. This, I believe, is the difference between 「共存」 and 「共生」.

   Human beings are just one species, but we have many different cultures, languages and religions, and we interact with each other in various ways. Many groups of people coexist 「共存」 but they do not cooperate with each other, nor even like each other. They just occupy the same space. A small conflict or misunderstanding can quickly become a much bigger one, and they sometimes even end up killing each other. Religion and cultural intolerance are frequent sources of conflict and war. 

   On the other hand, many western countries are today multicultural societies where great effort is made to help peoples with different social and cultural values to live together 「共生」 peacefully and prosperously.  Additionally, the world is becoming increasingly global and the actions of one country or group can often seriously affect other countries and groups far away. Positive interaction built on a foundation of respect for each other’s differences and concern for each other’s well-being is not only necessary, it is mutually beneficial to all groups. Perhaps one way to describe this is to say that 「共存」 is coexistence without action, while 「共生」 is coexistence with positive action.

   As a Canadian living in Japan, where many cultural values are different from my own, learning to communicate in Japanese was an essential first step to understanding and accepting the norms of Japanese culture. As a language teacher at Nayoro University, I think that one of the main goals of our university language classes (not only English, but German and Korean as well) is to give students the opportunity to use another language for real communication in cross-cultural contexts that reach across borders and language barriers. In my 1st and 2nd-year English Communication classes, students use online learning environments to interact with students from other countries around the world in English.  

   For better or worse, English has become the language of global communication and the number of non-native speakers of English today is even greater than the number of native speakers.  In this sense, English has become a powerful tool that allows us not simply to coexist 「共存」 with others, but live together with them in mutual peace and harmony 「共生」.

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